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Farm bill could be pushed back to 2025

farm bill capitol

The political outlook for 2024 and beyond was the subject of a Virtual Town Hall sponsored by the International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962 on November 29.

Panelists included Jeff Dufour, editor in chief of National Journal; Tara Smith Vighetti, president of Smith’s Farm Sales BB #:286927, based in St. Augustine, FL; and Jacqlyn Schneider, FGS Global partner for food and agriculture, and a former top aide to Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Headshot of Richard Smoley

“We’re in a period of political trench warfare,” observed Dufour. “Which is to say, each party can only hope to gain a little bit of ground, and then dig a new trench. Or fall back and then dig a new trench. To continue the metaphor, if you venture too far out into the centrist no-man’s-land, that’s where you get cut down.”

Major factors include extremely thin majorities for the Democrats in the Senate and for the Republicans in the House of Representatives, complemented by very narrow victories. “Last year the House was decided by fewer than 7,000 votes spread out over only 5 districts,” Dufour continued.

“I could see a scenario in which the House and the Senate both flip next year,” Dufour says. “It would only since the Civil War be the tenth double flip of both chambers in Congress, and it would be the first time ever that a divided Congress sees both houses flip the opposite direction.”

Vighetti said, “The most obvious change that we’re going to have in this election cycle in the Senate in terms of the Senate Ag Committee is going to be the loss of Debbie Stabenow,” who is currently chair of the committee. “She’s been a leader for the Democrats on the Senate Ag Committee for over a decade now. Obviously, a huge friend of the specialty crop industry, and she’s going to be retiring.”

Schneider suggested that Stabenow’s most likely replacement as chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee (assuming the Democrats retain control of the Senate) is Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Another loss on the Agriculture Committee will be Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who is leaving his seat to run for governor of Indiana, Vighetti noted.

A potential loss is Sen. John Tester (D-MT). “I think he’s one of four actual farmers and ranchers that we have in the Senate right now,” said Vighetti. Tester will be running a hard race for reelection in Republican-dominated Montana.

What does this portend for the farm bill? It has already expired and is functioning now under extension, which expires on September 30, 2024. If the bill is delayed that long, it is impossible to believe that Congress will pass such a major piece of legislation so close to election time.  

“Just to give you a little idea of how tight time is to get a farm bill done,” Schneider said, after June and July will be a “silly season,” when legislators are focused on elections. Yet next year from January to June, the House and Senate are in session for a mere 66 days. “That’s a pretty short amount of time to complete some work. There’s certainly a good amount of legislative work going on right now to try and get prepared for that, but there’s certainly very limited time for us to see some action either in the House or Senate committees.”

Another complication, noted Dufour, is that the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-LA), “came into the office with the least amount of leadership experience of any Speaker in about 140 years, since the Gilded Age in the late 1800s.”


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.